Here's The Tech We Were Using Last Time England Reached A World Cup Semi-Final

By James O Malley on at

The 4th July 1990, the last time England reached the World Cup semi-final, was a very different time. Take politics, for example: The Conservative Party was massively divided over Europe, and their female Prime Minister's leadership was under threat from malcontents within her own party. How can we possibly begin to understand what that might feel like today?

In any case, it isn't just politics that was different. Often, when covering technology, seeing the grand sweep of history is hard because we're so focused on incremental differences, such as how this year's phone has a slightly higher resolution screen than last year's. But take a look back to 28 years ago, and you can really appreciate just how much things have changed - and just how damn long it has been since Gazza had a cry after getting a yellow card.

So join us, as we take a look back at some of the technology that we might have been using the last time England had such a clear shot at football glory.

Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System

Watch the trailer for FIFA 18 and if you squint hard enough, you might struggle to tell the difference between the video games and watching a real game on TV. Back in 1990, this wasn't quite the case.

The dominant games consoles at the time in the UK were the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System - so during the build up to the match, chances are you were probably playing Super Mario Bros 2, or wishing that your parents hadn't bought you a Master System.

There was even a World Cup game to play. No, not FIFA - the first one of those was in 1993. And not even Sensible Soccer (that was 1992), but... Nintendo World Cup.

What's also particularly striking about games looking back, especially in this era of a hyper-globalised world economy and global release dates, is just how damn long things took to get to the UK. Though Super Mario Bros 3 launched in Japan in 1988, and the US in February 1990, it only hit Britain in August 1991.

Similarly, there was no chance of playing Tetris while watching the game in 1990, as the original Game Boy didn't launch until September 28th of that year.

Amiga 3000 and Windows 3

So that's gaming, but what if you want to do some serious work? What if you need to write a letter of complaint to Woolworths about a disappointing Marathon bar? Or if you wanted to make a spreadsheet to figure out if you could afford to buy a FastText TV from Rumbelows?

If you were a fashionable early-adopter, you might have picked up an Amiga 3000, which was released by Commodore in June 1990 and was positioned as a serious workstation rather than a games machine.

Here's a nerdy YouTube man demonstrating what the A3000 was like - though don't be fooled by the web browser, as by semi-final day in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee still hadn't invented the World Wide Web.

Meanwhile, if you had a PC and one of those new-fangled 386 processors, by May 1990 you could also have upgraded to Windows 3.0 - the first version of the OS to feature an icon-based file manager for launching applications, and the first version to include Solitaire.

BSB Squarial

The World Cup was, of course, broadcast on terrestrial TV - but what if you didn't like football? What else was there to watch? If you were lucky, you might have had satellite TV, not from Sky but from a company called British Satellite Broadcasting. BSB started broadcasting on the 25th March 1990 and stopped broadcasting... umm, later in 1990 after the company was bought by Rupert Murdoch.

What made the company unique was its "Squarial" receivers - which were quadrilateral rather than circular receivers, and which at the time were much more compact that Sky's dish. The service launched with five channels - a movie channel, a sports channel, a music channel, a news channel and a general entertainment channel. And if you want to get a feel of what you could have watched, here's a promotional video made by BSB at the time, trying to explain to people what the point of multichannel TV was.

Motorola MicroTAC

And finally... the mobile phone. Forget emojis. Forget texting. Forget... well, almost everything. In 1990, unless your dad was a city trader plundering wealth from newly privatised industries, you probably wouldn't have used a phone. But if you did, the Motorola MicroTAC would probably have been one of the slickest devices around at the time.

At 350g, the MicroTAC weighed 350g - about twice that of an iPhone X - and had a fully extensible antenna. What was the best feature? According to this absolutely amazing advert from the time, Motorola thought the best way to get our attention was pointing out that the phone has... a fold-out mouthpiece. Seriously.